Q & A – Is Christianity Anti-Semitic?
Q & A - Is Christianity Anti-Semitic?
Q & A - Is Christianity Anti-Semitic?
Any student of Jewish history knows that anti-Semitism has been an ongoing part of Jewish life pretty much as long as we’ve been a people. If it wasn’t Pharaoh enslaving us, it was Haman trying to kill us all off. And if it wasn’t Haman, it was the Roman Empire. Then came the Crusades, followed by the Holocaust, and today there’s the current foment on college campuses all over Israel.
Anti-Semitism has been such a significant part of our story that sometimes we have made it seem like the main event. Jewish historian Salo Baron called this the “lachrymose” – or tearful – “conception of Jewish history.”1 He thought that there was a whole lot more to the Jewish narrative.
He was right. Yet, there’s no getting away from the reality of anti-Semitism in our history, including all the times the Christian church has perpetrated acts against Jewish people: some disturbing, some incapacitating, many deadly. So, is Christianity anti-Semitic?
Jesus certainly wasn’t. After all, he was a Jew himself. People argued with him about many things; he had conflicts with Jewish leaders (rabbi vs. synagogue president, anyone?), but no one ever said he was against his own people.
Paul, the main contributor to the New Testament, has been the victim of false accusations, with the claim that he ditched the Torah and his Jewishness to make Yeshua palatable to Gentiles. In addition to a simple reading of Acts 21:17–26, recent scholarship has shown that, in fact, Paul remained a faithful Jew. Jewish professor Pamela Eisenbaum writes that “Paul lived and died a Jew.”2
It was the early Roman church that – as more non-Jews than Jews joined the community – gradually rebelled against its origins and started to speak and act out against the Jewish people (despite the fact that Paul had explicitly said not to do this in Romans 11).
But the sin of the Roman church doesn’t change the fact that Christianity is, at its core, a Jewish message. True Christian faith enjoins love for Jews (and, of course, for others too). Yeshua quoted the Hebrew Bible when he taught, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).
Countless atrocities have been performed in the name of “justice,” but that doesn’t mean we dispense with justice. In the same way, we can’t dispense with Jesus, because while truly outrageous and brutal things have been done in his name, this only proves an age-old truth – that people like to hide behind good to justify evil. In the name of “liberty,” or “justice,” or “Jesus,” you can attempt to rationalize almost anything – that is, until you check out what liberty really means, what justice is actually about, and who Jesus truly is.
1. Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews: High Middle Ages, 500–1200, vol. 4, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Columbia University Press; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1957), 147.
2. Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2009), 5. Eisenbaum teaches at Iliff School of Theology; this book describes her as “a practicing Jew teaching in a Christian seminary” (p. 321).
Scholar in Residence, Missionary
Rich has been on staff since 1978. He has served at several Jews for Jesus branches and was a pianist and songwriter with their music team, the Liberated Wailing Wall. He is now at the San Francisco headquarters, where he conducts research, writes and edits as the senior researcher. He is author of the books Christ in the Sabbath and The Day Jesus Did Tikkun Olam: Jewish Values and the New Testament, and co-author of Christ in the Feast of Pentecost. Rich received his M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1978 and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and Hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.